Q&A: Claudia Opdenkelder, Founder, "Cougar Life" Dating Service
It had to happen: now there's a cougar dating site. Cougar Life is for "Women in their PRIME: independent, sexy and wildly successfull" who "enjoy men that are youthful" -- and, of course, for those youthful men who like the idea. It's the brainchild of Claudia Opdenkelder, 39 years old (she told us, we didn't ask), who also runs Canadian promo firm Professional Promotions, has modeled, and as a devoted dater of younger men (she was once connected with a Backstreet Boy) won a Ms. Cougar radio competition in 2006, which got her thinking about starting this unique service.
We were naturally curious, and questioned Opdenkelder about the service, the way people use the word "cougar," and how she hopes to change that.
How's the site going?
Going fantastic! We have over 200,000 members already and the site launched in February.
Yikes. How has word spread?
We have the commercial on ESPN, on Ellen, on Sirius Radio on the Howard Stern Show -- I'm actually doing his show on December 16 -- so we're getting a lot of exposure from that, as well as all the media.
There are a lot of people who find "cougar" an offensive term. It seems you've taken the "ownership" route with it.
We're trying to reinvent it, revamp it if you will, and make it an easier term to embrace than what the old-school term used to mean. Whoever invented it -- I'm sure it was boys! -- they had the connotation that it was older women in their 80s trawling the bars. We're trying to take that thought away from everybody and make it about a 35-and-older, sophisticated, successful woman who knows what she wants, knows how to get it, doesn't need a man to get it for her, and enjoys the company of a younger man.
There are people who don't care to have their intergenerational relationships defined that way. You must have come across some of them --
To be honest, I haven't had any negative response at all,. And I have quite a few cougar girlfriends who are on Cougar Life who are now successfully dating cubs, so to speak. I've always dated younger men.... I started Cougar Life because I had so many friends in their 30s say to me, "Where are you finding all these loving amazing relationships with these amazing guys?"...
Because I'm revamping the word, I think people are embracing it. We're saying, "It's a fun word. Don't get so upset by it, everything in the world has labels on it, why not make it light, make it fun, make it something we can be cute about instead of being so serious?"
People do have fun with it, but not always in a good way. We recall some months back, Katie Couric was seen to be interested in a younger man, and the New York Post ran a "Katie Cougar" story and a graphic of her head on the body of a cougar, leaping as if after prey.
Because it was something that was created so long ago, it's tough to revamp something that people have stuck in their heads about cougars as animals out for prey. We are not technically on the prowl. I can see how there's be a "cougar effect," because the women are so strong and they're often the first to approach, That may be why people seeing it as preying. But they take it above and beyond, they poke fun of it, just like they do with anything else. They always poke fun of something that's different. Older men have been dating younger women for eons and no one bats an eye at it. But with what's going on in the Hollywood scene -- Demi Moore, Jennifer Aniston-- we accept it and hope they'll stop poking fun of it.
Are you dating a younger man now?
I'm actually living with my 25 year old boyfriend, and have been for a year and a half. He models and he owns a landscaping company. I'm 39. We're 14 years difference. I've never dated someone my own age.
What was your first relationship?
My first relationship was with my high school boyfriend. He was two years younger than me
That's a start.
[laughing] Yes! I went from two years' difference to 14!
Good for you. What was the first relationship where people noticed a disparity in your and your boyfriend's ages?
Nobody's ever really noticed, I guess because I look a lot younger than my age and have this zest for life, huge energy, and I take care of myself. I think women are more and more taking care of themselves, and know better how to stay young and vibrant.... I don't think that people really notice.
That begs the question of why we need a cougar dating service. For you and others, it isn't really an issue for the people who are involved. You just meet somebody and you happen to be of different ages...
There's tons of web sites out there specific to what it is you're looking for. Everyone has their own idea of what they're looking for. Some are looking for friendship, some for meaningful relationships, and some people are just looking have fun. I think in any dating service you get that... There's no "oh, there has to be a 10 year or a 14 year difference" -- even if people who meet on the site are just one or two years apart, or the same age, it's all about connecting people.
What if someone says, "This kind of thing interests me, but I'm a little nervous about identifying myself this way, given the social stigma?"
The description of a cougar is someone who's extremely self-confident and knows what they want. If you're kind of on the fence about this, then maybe you're not someone who's looking to be part of it, and you should just go on another service. It isn't a trend, it's a lifestyle. You don't wake up one day and say "I'm a cougar." It's something you've done your whole life -- just the kind of men you seek out and who seek you out, and it works out for you...
And it's not like the website is super public and everyone's going to know that you've just embraced this term. There used to be a stigma on dating online in general -- times have changed. But people are meeting on MySpace and Facebook. I think people have come to terms with dating online, and for single moms or women who are tired of the bars, they have the security of being behind the screen and being able to pick and choose who they want to go out with.
There was a lot of press -- even in the Times -- about your commercial, because ABC rejected it from running during their show Cougar Town. Do you still have a beef with ABC about that?
I don't think it's a "beef." I think we were just confused that they green-lit the entire campaign, and we worked on it through the entire process right up to the 11th hour, when they said they had no problem with the commercial, but they couldn't support the web site due to their affiliation with Disney. I think we were all like, this is hypocritical -- Cougar Town is all about what we're doing. If anything Cougar Town is more on the racier side than we are -- but they pulled the plug, though all the affiliates and other networks are showing it.
Any plans to build out Cougar Life site to offer more than the dating service? Maybe a magazine?
We're still testing everything out and seeing what people want and we get tons of emails. I want top expand the Ask Claudia advice section. We're expanding to Europe, and as we go we're gonna make the changes for the better as people request.
And it isn't all about the women. It's 52 percent cubs --
Where'd you get that word "cub"?
The development team. We just -- I wasn't a big fan of the term "boytoy" and they needed a cute word -- [laughing] I don't think my boyfriend would appreciate being called a boytoy.
It's free to join -- sites don't usually offer that -- and once you start speaking to other members it's $29 a month, But if one of you is activated, and you want to speak to some who's not, you can still conversate back and forth.
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